German Euro-sceptics put political differences aside to attack Emu

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THE BATTLE against the euro intensified yesterday as two leading figures from opposite sides of the German political divide launched a frontal assault on monetary union.

Breaking ranks with his government colleagues, Kurt Biedenkopf, one of the most powerful regional grandees, urged an "orderly postponement" of Emu beyond the millennium. On the left, Henning Voscherau, a top financial expert of the Social Democrats, shattered a taboo by calling for a referendum.

Both men have advertised their Euro-scepticism in the past, but neither has made the point so forcefully and at such an awkward moment as now. Coming in the wake of a court case against the euro and a manifesto signed by 155 economics professors opposing Emu, the latest interventions have reignited the faltering campaign to save the Deutschmark.

Mr Biedenkopf, the Prime Minister of Saxony and defeated rival of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, suggested in a newspaper interview that the next phase of monetary union should be postponed to 2002. According to the current schedule, this - third - stage is to begin next January with the linking of national currencies, which are to be withdrawn from circulation three years later.

"There should be an orderly extension of the second stage," Mr Biedenkopf told the Sachsische Zeitung. He said he agreed with the authors of the manifesto, who had argued in an open letter earlier this week that most European governments had failed to fulfil the economic criteria of monetary convergence.

Mr Voscherau, the former mayor of Hamburg, also claims to have been swayed by scholarly argument. While he describes himself as an advocate of deeper European integration, he disagrees with the way the project is being implemented, and bemoans the lack of discussion in Germany. "This sacredness, this lack of conflict, is like a cathedral built up over the euro that greatly prohibits public debate," he said. Both the Social Democrats and Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats have signed up for the euro, and are trying to prevent the issue clouding the election campaign later this year. Mr Voscherau did attempt to exploit German resentment over monetary union at his own regional elections last September. He was punished with the worst result for the Social Democrats in the city-state since the war, and was forced out of office.

"We should launch a movement towards democratic union with a timetable and an agenda in which countries who are prepared to join would have a common currency," he said yesterday. Appearing at the launch of a book penned by the four economics professors who are suing the German government, Mr Voscherau proposed a referendum coinciding with next September's parliamentary elections.

However, the government is unlikely to bow to his wishes, for the simple reason that the outcome of a plebiscite is pre- ordained.